Pansies

Pansies

You might have heard of Paul Harfleet’s Pansy Project? It sets out to commemorate homophobic incidents and attacks, first in London and the UK, and increasingly around the world. Pansy, is of course, a clever play on words: in English a term of homophobic abuse and in French the word for thoughts and recollections. Pansies are planted on incident sites, to commemorate something ugly with something beautiful.

I’ve noticed a couple of pansies blooming, planted at the base of street trees or outside pubs around here lately, and I thought I might document them on this blog. I first noticed a single purple pansy planted at the bottom of our road on the way to the station. I’m a bit useless and haven’t yet, managed to photograph this but then I noticed the little plant of yellow flowers pictured here on my walk this morning, outside O’Neill’s Irish Pub opposite Beckenham Junction Station. Of course, it might be a coincidence that it’s somehow taken root there, but pansies don’t self-seed, do they? It might be part of the Pansy Project but if it is not, and was planted by someone different who suffered or witnessed an incidence of homophobic abuse, I think it deserves to be documented, don’t you?

Keep on running

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Inspired by my friends @fizzandnonsense and Tuck Shop Sue, (by the time she arrived for the BYMT tuck shop duty, at 9.10 last Saturday, she’d already been for an 8 mile run and dropped two of her three children off at various Saturday activities. She works full time as well. I know)  I’ve been for a run this morning. Well, a run and walk. More a walk, really.

It was tough going and my choice of route, starting uphill, was probably not sensible. Still one has to start somewhere, and any exercise is better than none. The OH was a stalwart of our local Park Run and he keeps trying to persuade me to go to that but I don’t fancy the idea of being the last to finish of the 500+ people who do it every week. I’m not a morning person and I hate the cold. When I used to run outside, it often took me a couple of hours to psych myself up for a winter run.

I’ve been a member at a couple of hugely-expensive local gyms for several years now, and I do try and go twice a week. I know that three times per week is preferable but I still have to take the dogs out after that and I don’t like leaving them unwalked regularly and for so long. It’s a bit too much exercise, if that’s possible, three gym trips plus four or five two hour dogs walks every week. Recently, however, I’ve had lots of commitments elsewhere and a horrible virus that has really knocked me back so I’ve managed once a week, if that. There is no time for another gym visit this week and that makes me feel bad so a run was the obvious solution.

And yet, as I slogged round the 5km park route, assiduously adopting a cheery and lively running pace when passing anyone I knew and slowing down immediately the coast was clear, it was hard to imagine how I once did 10km (well Nike+ 10K, which equals about 8K) at least three times a week up and down the towpath on the Seine.

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The river scenes that inspired Renoir and the Impressionists were different every time and the hilliest bit was the bridge over the Motorway underpass at Chatou. How I embarassed the 10 year old Boywonder once by doing star jumps to the amusement of passing motorists accompanied by Ricky Martin through my headphones.

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The Chatou bridge doesn’t look like this anymore.

I started running in 2006 to counteract the Parisian Suburban school run that drove me half mad, and the stress of being an unsupported trailing spouse, with little control over one’s life and circumstances. I was piling on the weight from all the croissants and chouquettes and the boredom, and something had to be done. Running was easy, after the first couple of weeks. I loved the surroundings and it did a lot to lift my mood. When my dad died unexpectedly, later that year, I was faced with the incipient deterioration of my mother’s mind, and my dad’s financial affairs were in such disarray that running and the Seine towpath simply took my mind away to a calmer place. I never did lose much weight, though. I tend to add muscle rather than lose fat but I know which version of me I find preferable.

Beckenham, is different, though. It’s true that here are lots of lovely green and flowery bits but there are also far too many trip hazards in the form of cracked, uneven paving stones. Unused to this after the smoothly tarmaced, Rueil Malmaison pavements, my first run here on our return in 2007 was punctuated by three almost-trips. I often took Oscar running when he was old enough and, because I think running on public roads with him in built up areas with traffic is both unappealing and risky, we used the running track in Dulwich Park. We did a very dull 5 laps each time, on one memorable occasion running on ice with an ambient temperature of -5C.

The running did help with the tension caused by the adventures of a teenager in a demanding school, and on one memorable occasion I ran 15K to Bromley Common and back at 4.30 am. A nasty fall in local woods rendered me slower and slower and more and more cautious and eventually it felt like my desultory runs were doing me no good at all so I joined the gym, where the treadmill is sooth and if you fall over you’re not going to do much damage. The gym has made me unused to outdoor running though, which I find fast more difficult.

Essentially, though, running bores me. You have to concentrate so hard – I have never had my mind freed to think creative thoughts on a run – and that concentration sucks the enjoyment out of all of it. I’m just not built for running.Short in stature and with substantial curves in the wrong places that raise my centre of gravity, I hardly resemble a lithe gazelle when I run. Frankly, I’d rather walk, taking in the flowers and the sounds as I pass. But walking does not burn many calories and it takes a lot longer than running.

I’m ten years older and grumpier than when I took my first steps onto that Parisian towpath. Of course I’m not going to be as quick as I was, and this frustrates me. But on a sunny day, with excellently inspiring music playing through my daft looking headphones, well, I can feel it doing me good.

 

 

Friday night tired thoughts

Time to write tonight’s post and I find myself sitting on my sofa in my sitting room for the first time in over 5 months. Granted, this is the view:

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but it’s an awful lot better than last weekend, most of which I spent on my hands and knees with a scrubbing brush. It’s very, very, very difficult to get paint dust out of the grout in a slate floor, by the way.

Our kitchen project seems finally to be moving to its last few days but progress in the last week or two has been excruciatingly slow and frustrating. The builders clearly want to be somewhere else instead of jet washing the patio slates over and over to try and remove the dust, and I just want my house and my life back. I haven’t managed a singing practice or a trip to the gym for weeks.

I’m hoping to have my sitting room in order, with all of our books moved into the old room that we’re now calling the music room (remember, we called that the morning room for a while) before I depart for India on Sunday. That room has been really shabby for years (we used it as a dining room and always placed guests with their backs to the wall with the damp stains) and is now crying out desperately to be taken in hand but it’s going to have to wait for a while or until some fairy comes with the wherewithal to do it for us.

My new kitchen has been more or less operational for this week and I’ve enjoyed cooking food that I wasn’t able to cook in the temporary kitchen. It concerns me a little how much of my life is tied up with preparation and appreciation of food but we all have our vices I guess. Sadly, I still haven’t managed to adjust from cooking for four to cooking for three (or, indeed, two at times) so there are plenty of leftovers. I made these arancini

IMG_3007from Wednesday’s leftover wild mushroom and butternut squash risotto.and a few mozzarella cherries. Yes, I was trying out my new deep fat fryer (let’s pause and blench guiltily at that thought) tonight.

Our normal Friday night routine takes in fish and chips from the Big Catch. The OH and I pop down there before picking MsDD up from band at 9.15. But tonight I thought it might save a bit of cash if I made fish and chips myself.

Well, the fish is certainly cheaper but, if I’m honest, it’s a bit of a faff. And I don’t know why the fish batter STILL sticks to the frying basket. It doesn’t take long to do the actual cooking but because the fryer is small and things have to be done in batches there was a lot of waiting around involved:

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This is Oscar trying his very best to look like an appealing puppy. He loves fish and chips.(Looking at this picture, my eyes are still drawn to the white paint dust in that grout. It’s supposed to be dark grey, for goodness’ sake, and we’ve scrubbed and scrubbed but still it looks white.)

And that’s been my week: unpacking and cooking, mainly. I’ve cooked for the freezer so that they don’t have to cook from scratch next week after coming home from school/work or resort to too many microwave meals.

Tomorrow Saturday Morning Music School restarts so that means that I’m on tuck shop duty. I did my regular Cash and Carry run, taking in a visit to the rubbish tip on the way. I mean, it’s all a bit dull, really, isn’t it? But such is life (Middle class life in Beckenham, @tonyhazzard)

IMG_3005I did manage to take a little time to sit in the OH’s late Nan’s armchair and enjoy a cup of tea. OH has fitted a limescale filter to the Quooker tap now and it makes all the difference in the world to the taste and appearance of our tea. This was my view this afternoon. Which was nice

 

Some loose ends

Hm. Well tonight I had been hoping to showcase shots of my newly installed kitchen appliances. Sadly, though the electrician DID spend four hours here this afternoon, the only thing he actually fitted was the coffee machine, and very nice coffee it makes indeed. As it should. So I am not yet @MsAppliance. I’m beginning to wonder if this project will ever be at an end. There are 10 days to go until the formal completion date and a seemingly unending amount of bits and bobs yet to be sorted out. My patience is wearing thin.

So instead I’ll take this opportunity to tie up a few loose ends. I find that, since I have been blogging every day, I no longer keep things in my head to fester. Once they have been committed to laptop, I tend to forget about them. Which is essentially a good thing for me but which means that I can get a little disorganised and confused if someone questions me about something I wrote last week, for example. I have no idea what I wrote about last week.

A few posts stick in my mind if I’m particularly proud of them, but only a few. I’m very pleased at how interactive this blog has become. It’s more of a conversation than a broadcast and I’m happy to encourage that: this is, after all, where I put things that I cannot express fully in 140 characters. If you have any suggestions or questions, I’m only too happy to hear them. If nothing else it means I have a few readers, for whom I’m most grateful.

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Let us start then with the faulty pump on the Hourglass Veil Foundation bottle. I tweeted Hourglass, who (almost) immediately sent me a replacement pump. The problem is that their Veil foundation is too thick for their pump. Apparently they will be revising the packaging at some point soon. I bought the foundation through Net-A-Porter and they immediately sent me another bottle. So now I have two bottles of foundation and two working pumps. Which is nice as I’ve decided that it is really my favourite foundation so far. I am somewhere between a Light Beige and a Beige colour, which is a tad disheartening. I’d much rather be something that sounds nicer like honey or caramel or perfectly done toast instead. Does that verge on the racist? I don’t know.

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At the weekend I told the sorry tale of my Clinique Purifying Cleansing Brush. After several tweets and emails to various branches of this Estee Lauder brand – and the customer service email is elusive on their website – I received a somewhat garbled email and a couple of follow-up phone calls. Apparently the crazy behaviour is a known fault with these brushes, which has since been corrected, but the customer service person I spoke to was unable to help me ascertain why this was happening. Apparently they have rectified the situation now. So today I received a product recall Jiffy bag and apparently they are sending me new brush in the post. I haven’t received that yet though.

I must admit that I was surprised by all this. I would have expected a huge multinational like the Estee Lauder Corporation to have a more professional system of handling complaints but in a way it was quite sweet that they were obviously not used to handling calls such as mine. Perhaps it indicates that they don’t receive that many complaints. Or perhaps I’m being optimistic. Whichever way, I’m surprised not to have seen a general product recall if this was a known fault. You only have to look at the reviews on the John Lewis website to see how their brand is being damaged by this faulty product. I feel like adding my own review with a YANBU (You Are Not Being Unreasonable) explanation.

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Finally tonight I’ll post a reply from my MP, Colonel Bob Stewart DSO etc, to my plea to him to vote against the laws on fox hunting being changed to make it easier to hunt foxes with multiple dogs. I was quite cross with his response to me. I found it rather patronising. Here it is:

Dear Mrs Beecroft

Thank you for your e-mail containing your views on fox hunting and any changes to the law concerning how it is carried out if and when the House of Commons takes up the matter again. I have received a huge number of e mails on this subject. To be honest I am rather surprised and a little shocked too that this subject has raised far more e mails than matters like child protection, female genital mutilation in the UK or modern slavery for women. However it is clearly a matter of great concern to you and I wanted to say where I stand on the subject – at least right now.

To be honest I wish the whole subject had not been introduced by the Government as I feel we have other massive problems which are a priority first. But I suppose that’s life!

I suspect you may know that fox hunting in the traditional way with hounds was banned in Scotland in 2002 and within England and Wales in 2004. However in a modified form hunting with hounds and subsequent shooting of their quarry, foxes, remains within the law and certainly destroying them as vermin is still lawful. Personally, despite having been an infantry officer with some combat experience, I have never hunted or shot any animal as a sport. I simply don’t like the thought.

I was not an MP in 2004 but I recall thinking at the time that there was an element of political nastiness (dare I say class envy) about the law changes in England and Wales. As I recall the House of Lords revised the bill to make it easier to apply and more sensible but many in the House of Commons simply wanted to make a point without regard to the real mechanics of enforcement and operation. So the House of Commons rejected the Lords’ amendments which were, I thought, more humane and practical.

Actually the current proposed adjustment of the law was not its repeal or indeed a gateway to the law being scrapped. What was being suggested is far more about farmers, particularly upland ones, having the ability to flush out foxes as pests which take their livestock. Traditional hunts would still have to kill their quarry with a shot rather than hounds.

I must say we here in South East London are flooded out with foxes which some people encourage even further by feeding. There are too many foxes around us – existing largely on scraps and rubbish that we humans either discard, throw away or give them. I wish we could reduce their numbers as they are starting to be a menace; brazenly coming into people’s houses – and they may even have attacked a couple of children. However the urban fox around us here was not what this revision of the law is all about. It is about foxes in the countryside.

The last hunt which took place in the constituency area apparently took place starting at Beckenham Junction Station in 1901! So in truth this matter has little impact on our lives here on the borders of London and Kent. But that is not the case of many who live in the countryside proper. They feel that they know best about how to manage foxes and I acknowledge their primary right to that view.

Just to get a feel of what most constituents – not just those that e mail me normally as part of a campaign – felt about fox hunting I asked 130 constituents a few days ago whether they supported changing the rules on fox hunting or not. By a large margin most people asked thought the rules should be changed and not left as they were. Some people admittedly didn’t care less. At least that snap poll, imperfect as it was, gave me a feel of what those constituents felt about the subject.

I understand those who argue for revision and I have listened to those who think fox hunting should not happen at all. My rough and ready opinion poll also suggested that the people I asked favoured a change to the rules. Based on that I should favour revising the law.

However, as your MP, I am a representative and not a delegate – which means I am elected to make my own mind up. I have promised to do that many times to constituents over the last year or so when I have promised them that I would think hard about hunting.

With best wishes

Bob

Now, I wasn’t entirely surprised by this reply, though I did find it rather patronising: him wondering why I should worry my pretty little suburban head about an issue that didn’t really concern me. And I was incensed at his comment about his surprise that he had received more correspondence about this than child protection; female genital mutilation and modern slavery for women. Does he mean that these are the issues with which women should concern themselves?

I’m afraid I could not let that pass so I replied briefly saying that obviously these matters concerned me but that I had assumed that his views would not differ from mine (and those of all right-thinking people) on these subjects. I also reminded him of the widely-cited BBC poll suggesting that 80% of country people are against fox hunting. To date I have received no reply. The fox hunting vote was shelved until the autumn, as we know, but I’m glad I had my say.

As I said, if there’s anything you want to ask me, do. I could do one of those Ask Me Anything things, couldn’t I?

Exercising democracy

I am annoyed and appalled at the new Government’s priority of changing the law on hunting. Some people say that the intention is merely to neaten up the law to bring English law into line with legislation in Scotland. I don’t understand, then, why pro-hunting people are so gleeful. To me, this government has some odd priorities.

Now, I did not vote for my local MP but he appears and speaks often in the House of Commons on diverse subjects. I was disappointed that, in the last parliament, he voted against marriage equality, for example, but he stated later that he had 250 communications from his constituents asking him to vote against the proposal and only 4 urging him to vote for it.

I was ashamed at my lethargy about something I care about deeply so later, when there was a vote on banning the sale of puppies and kittens at pet shops, I emailed him and asked him to speak for the proposal. I received a response by email almost immediately, telling me that he would try to pop in on the debate and was very surprised when I checked the They Work For You website, that he had actually spoken for it.

This morning, therefore, I emailed my MP, Colonel Bob Stewart with my views. Here is my letter:

Dear Colonel Stewart

I know that you are keen to listen to the views of your constituents and often speak in the House to represent our views. I am writing, therefore, to ask you to vote against lifting the ban on hunting with dogs next week.
I would argue that there is no place in a civilised society for raising dogs specifically to chase their quarry for miles and miles and, finally having exhausted the poor fox, ripping it apart. I find it hard to understand how some people can enjoy this atavistically brutal barbarism and call it sport. To me it only encourages the baser instincts of humankind.

We rightly deplore the activities of local gangs involved in training dogs to tear each other to pieces in dog fights and those who steal pet dogs to be used as bait in these fights. We justifiably condemn those who teach their dogs to snarl and threaten other people as a way of enhancing their own “status.” In fact, it is now against the law for a dog owner to let their dog chase a cat or behave in an “out-of-control” way in public or, indeed, on private property. A dog can be shot by a farmer for causing stress to sheep or other livestock. How, then, can we logically justify making it legal again for people to train packs of dogs specifically to hunt and stress wildlife for the warped enjoyment of people who can pay huge amounts of money to “enjoy” this privilege? Goodness only knows what effect this warped barbarity has on their state of mind when considering allocating the resources of the country.

I am not suggesting that the countryside is some sort of theme park filled with fluffy bunnies and cuddly foxes. I understand how a farmer could be worried by the threat to their stock from animals they see as vermin. I understand that it might be necessary sometimes to cull foxes. Are we really saying, however, that the practice of hunting with hounds, and the bloodlust it seems to inspire in a privileged few, is the most humane way of controlling the fox population? I cannot understand how anyone can truly believe this.

It is set to be a free vote next week, Mr. Stewart and, as an animal lover, I implore you to examine your conscience. Would you be happy for your dogs to be trained to engage in this bloodthirsty practice? Animals cannot speak for themselves. It is our duty as humans to do what is right for them.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

With best wishes

I do not welcome the prospect of bringing back hunting with dogs because I do not agree that we should consider killing animals as sport. It is not a popular view, as I discovered this morning when I was spoken to in most hurtful terms on Twitter by someone I had considered a friend. If you want some statistics on vermin control, they are here.

Due to this morning’s experience, I have prevaricated about posting this letter. However, this blog is my voice and despite feeling rather bruised, I think it’s important to make one’s voice heard in a dignified and polite way, much as I thought it was important to make my voice heard with my MP. How he votes in a free vote is up to him but I feel that I have done my best.

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